Historic Countdown: kl.1600

Rasma Haidri
6 min readSep 25, 2021

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My impression of a virus in flight…

It is 14:27, Saturday afternoon, 25 September. Oh yes, 2021. The year-2021-is important. It’s everything right now. This is day 561 of Norway’s Covid lockdown…and this is the last hour and a half. People who are sitting in restaurants and bars, one meter apart as is their Covid habit, are waiting for the clock to strike four. At precisely four o’clock pm Norway will open, regaining and reclaiming normalcy.

What will be the scene in these public places? People will scoot their chairs closer, friends who have been sitting four to a sofa in cafe lounges will regroup in joyful flocks of ten.

And people will klem.

Will they?

The Norwegian klem, a greeting of pressed cheek against cheek, has been gone so long we wonder if the culture will have retained it. Will people klem, or will they still be clicking elbows together, unable to break the new Covid habit?

Four o’clock will tell. We are a nation watching the clock. I wonder if there has been such a common moment of national import since Magnus Carson won the chess world championship, or more recently, Karsten Warholm set a world record in the 400 m hurdles in Tokyo. That was the 2020 Olympics, but didn’t we just watch it?

This has been a year of warped time and warped custom. It began March 12, 2020 when the country shut down with the immediacy of a finger snap. Five days earlier, Veronica and I moved across the country, arriving in Bergen where we met our children at the airport and-am I remembering right?-we gave each other hugs. I remember O. joking about maybe being exposed to Corona in Volta, a very Italian sounding Norwegian city where he had been teaching that week. Corona, as we knew it, belonged in Italy. No one saw it coming, and then the country shut down.

I had the statistics written down somewhere… not here… and I dare not take the time to go find them. It will soon be too late to write about Covid, so I must get this written now. The pandemic has not been possible to write about in a normal way. How do you write to people about what is going on in your world when everyone worldwide is literally in the same world? As I recall, on March 1, 2020 there were under ten cases of Corona in Norway, and on the 12th we closed down. When I find the numbers I might see I am wrong, there were only two cases on March 1st. It all happened so very quickly. That first week of March 2020 marked the end of winter vacation with Norwegians returning from skiing in Italy and Austria, bringing Covid-19 with them.

And now… (oh, how quickly this day is going!) in a few minutes it will be over! K. is flying home from a business trip in Sweden today. Before she left I asked her how the mask rules were on the plane. Oh, mandatory of course! She looked at me like I’d never been on an airplane, and indeed I haven’t. Not in this world. Not this side of Covid, of March 12, 2020.

I wonder now if, as the plane soars over Scandinavia at exactly four o’clock, people will rip off their masks and wave them in the air as flags were waved in the spontaneous celebration parades marking the end of WWII. We’ve all seen them on news reels… the uniformed young men jumping into the crowd and the jubilant young women jumping into their arms and oh, the kisses! Those iconic kisses.

Which journalist will shoot the iconic klem today?

It might have already happened, yesterday at the news conference, when the health minister folded up his 1 meter ruler, slipped it into his suit coat pocket, and crossed the two meter distance from his podium to that of the prime minister, and they embraced. The prime minister was not wearing her usual stately blue, but a pink floral frock to make her historic announcement, which the two government officials cemented with a klem. We watched awestruck. We hadn’t seen a klem in so long. Not in public. Hardly even at home. They looked slightly giddy from having just announced that the closing, no, the opening (how unfamiliar is that word? my automatic typing fingers don’t know how to write it!), would be today at 16.00. That gave us slightly more than twenty-four hours to get ready.

Where to be at 15.59?

How to commemorate the crossing over to 16.00?

Yestday B. canceled her trip out here to visit us in order to be at her workplace; she wants to be there when history is made. It has a number of concert arenas, pubs, cafes, dance floors, bars, and it can house 1,400 people at a time. For the past 561 days they’ve had about 100 guests, seated disco, drinks and food ordered by app. The student volunteers who are running the bars and cafes have not had to work the cash registers. They have not experienced customers standing at the bar, ordering a drink and expecting to watch it being made. It will be an abrupt learning curve tonight. They are expecting a surge of guests. Every available bouncer, bartender and barista who has ever worked there is joining the ranks tonight, just in case they are needed, and to be part of history in the making, to be able to say: “I was there.”

Tonight, all over Norway stir-crazy Norwegians will be bar hopping, celebrating the end of the “no one enters a bar after midnight” rule. Out here on the island, in our cottage nestled on the edge of wilderness, I’m not sure we’ll notice the transition. We are a cohort of two with a weekend guest, little J. who was born in the Covid-nadir, March 2020, when no one knew what kind of world he would grow up in. I’m not sure any of us still know, but then again, isn’t that how it always is?

This is not the first pandemic, though maybe the furthest reaching. Still, around the world, as the clock in Norway nears four pm, other little children are doing what he’s doing, experimenting with life and the way things work. He’s finding out what is predictable, what to count on. Will the ball pit hold him if he lowers himself into it backwards? Can the antique snow plow tractor from Hawaii fit into cardboard box that held his unassembled little red Norwegian wheelbarrow? Is the wagon possible to pull upside down? Will the tiny digger stay on the rocking-moose? Can a tower of three blocks hold a frisbee roof? I watch him and see that yes, he finds answers in his world.

He does not know I am counting down the minutes until 1600. He can neither talk nor count, but one day he will read about the year he was born, and how it changed the world. He’ll try to imagine us with our masks and rulers and portable containers of disinfectant. He might remember that in his first year and a half of life he saw us wearing masks and was not afraid. It was just another experiment. Is that still amee and nanna behind those masks? Yup. We were no more changed than an upside down wagon. He’ll never know how scared we all were in the time of Covid, how we thought we might not live to see the end of pandemic, the return to normal. Many did not live to see it. But here we are: kl. 16.00.

It’s also a signing off, like “love” at the end of a letter: klem.

Stor klem!

Originally published at http://rasmasays.wordpress.com on September 25, 2021.

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Rasma Haidri

Poet and memoirist writing from an island off the coast of Norway. More at www.rasma.org.